Not long ago, while having a discussion on lifestyles, I have come across this taboo, controversial topic. While some people consider eating horse meat unethical, others agree with it. But when and how do we know for sure that certain beliefs are morally incorrect, when other people think otherwise?
I, for one, reminisce about the times when my grandfather would wake up early in the morning, take the carriage drawn by horses to where the land was and start ploughing the soil. Therefore, for me eating horse meat is out of discussion.
However, most countries all around the world such as Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Senegal, China, Japan, Belgium, France, Iceland and Italy, to name a few, consider horse meat a delicacy. In the UK or the USA, it is forbidden by law to consume this type of meat, as horses have pet statuses (just like dogs). Moreover, religions, such as Judaism forbid horse meat consumption on the grounds of the horse not being a ruminant and not having cloven hooves. (Lebeau, 1983: 50) As far as the Muslim religion is concerned, the opinions are divided, as whether it is forbidden or not to consume horse meat, but generally speaking, Muslims do not eat horse meat, unless it comes from wild and not domesticated horses.
Every country has its own set of rules and from a PR perspective, I am fully aware of the importance of cultural awareness. People act in accordance to their own attitudes, beliefs and needs. Many people coming from different ethnic backgrounds and living in the USA or UK , are not particularly happy about not being able to consume horse meat and strongly protest against the law.
But what exactly does happiness entails? Aristotle considered that eudaimonia (the Greek term for happiness) comprises the function of reasoning, which explains why people choose to do what they do (which differentiates us from the plants and animals) by taking into account their virtues. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012: 11) Whether the personal or a country’s values come into discussion, it makes no difference, except for the case in which an individual’s personal or national virtues contrast with another one’s and implode. What becomes the centre of the matter, then? Can we affirm, for sure, that some people are barbarian for eating horse meat? What entitles us to do so?
In order to come up with a possible answer, let’s take a look at the Kazakhstan‘s history. As nomads, they not able to grow cereals or other animals and their only chance at survival was represented by the horse meat. Moreover, in their culture, consuming horse meat represents a sign of appreciation and respect towards this animal. So, their actions are influenced and at the same time governed by moral virtues such as courage and freedom, and also by the intellectual ones, such as the perception of perpetuating their cultural values. We can see that their state of well-being is influenced by consuming horse meat. Can the same state of well-being be achieved by some other European nations?
A nations’ well-being can be another one’s atrocity. In India, for example, they consider the cow to be sacred and they would never kill it, let alone eat it. Based on the evidence provided, do you think that it is ethical to judge other people for having the courage to defend the virtues they believe in, by consuming horse meat? Is it ethical to say that our values are superior over those of another nation’s that may strongly believe in and have them deeply rooted in its culture?
There are two approaches to be considered in order to offer a valid answer to these questions, and these are the utilitarianism or the contractarianism, which can be “summarized as benevolence” or “fairness”. (Martin, 2005: 475) John Stuart Mill, one of the most important theorists in the field of utilitarianism believed that “people desire happiness — the utilitarian end — and that the general happiness is “a good to the aggregate of all persons.” (1959: 81) (cited in Driver, 2009) But how can all the people in the world be happy at the same time, when we keep judging each other for choosing to defend ourselves, as being a part of a nation?
The precedent of judging people over their culture has already been set long time ago. The survival of the fittest culture is buried under the generic name of globalization, which is gaining momentum and leading to cultures being extinct. A relevant example would be the Americans forbidding people with roots in foreign cultures to exert their right of eating horse meat. Do you believe that, in time, the Kazakhs and all the other nationalities living in the USA will forget about their culture and embrace the American values? Which one do you think that it will prevail: the utilitarianism or the contractarianism? Will the Kazakhs be able to preserve their culture, as well, or will they lose their values and will need to embrace the American values as their own (provided they live in America)?